Thursday, January 17, 2013

Winning on the Way Down

Did Lance Armstrong ever have cancer?

This question was in my mind even as Lance walked through his stiff 'confession' to 'P-Oprah'.  I heard him admit, candidly, to having taken some kinds of 'performance-enhancing' drugs during his entire cycling career.  Apparently, he started 'doping' as they call it, even before he won his first race.  It seems that he started experimenting with drugs long before he won the Tour de France for the first time in 2001.

So now we know what many have suspected for years:  Lance Armstrong is a cheat and a liar.  So what?  Who cares?  While many people are upset, many are also defending him, not just because they feel he was only doing what was necessary to compete and win, but also because they feel he has done a lot more net good for the world than bad.  Many people point to his 'cancer-fighting' foundation and argue that even if he built it with money earned by cheating, the Foundation (and, by extension, Lance) has been an agent of the good.  The good 'outweighs' the bad, they say.

In other words, the ends justify the means.

One writer summed it up this way:  "Who cares what Armstrong has to say now? Who cares how this story plays out, with his athletic career over and his influence now old news?  None of it changes the power of inspiration and what it means to some — even if under false pretenses."

Oh really? I understand that while he may have been a bit tough on the Jews (and some others), old Mussolini got the trains running on time.  Gotta take the good with the bad, right?

Wrong.  The ends do not justify the means.  Lying and cheating for a good cause?  Who really believes that?

In fact, Lance's 'story' can only hurt cancer victims more than they are already hurt by claiming that false inspiration is better than nothing at all.   Cancer patients and their families rely on something more tangible than false inspiration from a famous cyclist.  They rely on real people doing real things every day.  There are many ordinary 'heroes' out there who do not talk--they act.  These are caregivers who sit by bedsides, change diapers and weep silently while their loved ones' lives leak out slowly.

So, was Lance ever really one of them?  Did he actually beat cancer?  Did he ever even have cancer?

Now that we know that Lance is a liar, and that he lied to everyone, even his closest 'friends' and 'allies' it's fair to ask if anything he's ever said or done is actually true.  That includes the cancer.

Lance did a lot more than the other cyclists, and not just doping.  He focussed on every aspect of the competition, improving his bike, his clothes, his communications equipment and, oh by the way, his body.  He did train a lot, and developed a work ethic that most of us would find to be ridiculous, if not impossible.  But as anyone--including Lance apparently--will tell you, training only gets you so far. If you want to compete at the highest level, you have to do more.  There is every indication that he started experimenting with performance enhancing drugs well before his first Tour de France.

Hence, the question.  Did something he took--some secret, experimental version of the EPO that ensured his seven Tour victories--actually cause his 'cancer'?  I put quotes around the word 'cancer' because I am suggesting that what he had was not actually the disease, but a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to some drug that he had taken.

If so, this would explain a lot.  It would explain how the 'cancer' spread to his lungs and brain, but somehow miraculously retreated and eventually vanished in a few months.  For most cancer patients, the goal is to see the cancer vanish, never to return, but most know from the first moment of their diagnosis that such an outcome is not only unlikely, it's improbable and not worth betting on.  Most people, once they've been diagnosed with cancer, start to wonder just how much time they have left.  They know that miracles seldom happen, but of course, many are tempted to try.  After all, why not?  Lance beat it, right?

What would it say to all those cancer victims if they knew that Lance never actually had cancer?  What if they knew that he had created the cancer story and even the Foundation as a means of covering up the actual ugly truth?

I'm not a fan of conspiracy theories, and it's unlikely that this scenario is true, given the people who would have had to cover it up over the years.  And yet, if anything, Lance has proven himself to be the master of the Big Lie.  When asked directly--"How could you lie about it to so many people and for so long?"--the answer was amazingly simple.  It was exactly what many, including Lance, have been saying all along.  Lance is different from you and me.

By that, I don't just mean that he's rich.  Well he was worth $100 million on January 1, but that number is sinking fast.  No, I mean is a sociopath, and as such, still doesn't know the difference between the truth and a lie, between right and wrong.  He was asked directly if he thought he was cheating when he took banned substances and lied about it and he said no.  The irony to this answer is that it was actually truthful. The fact that he was a sociopath didn't seem to be lost on him.  In his own words, that's just "scary".

Of course, there's not much I can do about all this, and why should I?  Why am I even bothering you, Dear Reader?  After all, it isn't up to me to judge him.  I get that.  I may not want to forgive him, but so what?  That is my problem, not his.

Lance will have to deal with his problems.  They don't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.  Some pretty powerful forces will seek to punish him financially and socially and they'll probably do a pretty good job of it.  Still it won't be any sort of 'real' punishment, of the sort that 'ordinary' folks endure when they've cheated and lied. Somehow, some way, he's going to get out of this.

I think that his latest, oh-so-public attempt to wriggle out of years of cheating and lying is simply unfair to those of us who have played our little life games by the rules the whole time.  It just doesn't seem right to simply say to all us 'little guys:  "Ah well, whatever, he's rich and famous. He's done more good than bad.  Just live and let live, forgive and forget".

Just the way us 'regular' folks pay a price for lying on our resumes or cheating on our taxes, I think Lance should have to pay a price for cheating and lying in cycling.   I also think that just simply taking his name out of the record books is insufficient and insignificant to him anyway.  Right now the only thing left of value to him is his ability to compete.  To give that back to him after a the limited admission I saw seems unfairly lenient.  I say he should never be allowed to compete officially, at anything again.

After all Lance obviously doesn't care about the trophies or the money (he'll either have to give them back or they'll take it all back in the courts), and he sure doesn't care about his supporters (he admitted they they have abandoned him) so the only thing left to punish him would be a ban on his participation in 'official' competitions.  It seems that the only truly effective sanction for this cheater/liar is to prevent him from continuing to beat (up on) athletes with less talent, money and drugs than he has.

His 'confession' will not change a thing, of course.  As many writers has already observed, this whole event is just another calculated move to recoup his lost sense of superiority as a athlete.  If nothing else, Lance Armstong is a competitor.  He's already demonstrated that he'll do whatever it takes to win, so it seems obvious that he'll continue to do just that: say anything to anyone, do anything to anyone, just to be on top.

Sadly, he'll never have what those 'losers' seem to possess even though they don't win the races--dignity.  As former world and Olympic champion cyclist Nicole Cooke said years ago, long before Lance's 'confession'.  She said, "I can't help thinking that the cheats win on the way up and the way down."

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